21 July 2011

A Nation of Self-Deceivers Cannot Debate Honestly

Contemporary readers are doubtless aware that we're down to about two weeks before the U.S. government hits its debt ceiling.  For anyone reading this in the future, House Republicans and Senate Democrats have been at loggerheads for months, and every time someone has sniffed an agreement, it's been followed by escalating signs of discord.  Eric Cantor walked out of the meetings, saying he refused to be part of them anymore because he won't accept any plan to address the deficit that involves raising revenue--even if that means closing tax loopholes rather than an actual tax increase.  Everyone with a cable talk show has hosted anyone who has ever spoken the words "debt" and "ceiling" in the same breath, searching for commentary.  The blogosphere is inundated with this. In a lot of ways, it's become a microcosm for every topic from class warfare to foreign policy.

I've thought about posting numerous times throughout all this, but I figured one more voice shouting into the abyss was extraneous at best.  Besides, I've rather enjoyed my recent diversions into blogging about comic books.  Yet, I recently came across something that I don't think has been properly discussed and debated and upon reflection I've decided it's worth posting here for the few readers who will find it.

Suzanne Mettler, Cornell's Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions (I wonder what her business cards look like) has published a paper, "Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era" in which she presents the following table that should be self-explanatory:

That right there is the entire reason that our national debt and government spending debates exist in their current form.  It's not like we're living under the Sun King dipping into the coffers to throw lavish parties and build the palace at Versailles.  The second highest paid government official is the Postmaster General, who makes $265,000 a year.  If that sounds exorbitant, consider that he or she is the equivalent to the CEO of UPS or FedEx, but with the constraints of being a government agency.

Our debt, massive though it may be, is spent on programs that benefit us.  Yet all anyone seems to be able to think about when the subject arises of government programs: something that poor people use because they're lazy.  Until we own up as a society to just how much use we all get from these programs, we can't have a meaningful discussion about what is and is not "wasteful" spending.

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